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Democrat asks Barr to preserve any records tied to environmental hacking probe

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Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) is asking Attorney General William Barr to preserve any records related to a hacking probe on environmental groups that was launched in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) prior to former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s dismissal. 

The probe looks into phishing emails that targeted the email accounts of government officials, journalists, banks, environmental activists and other individuals. The emails reportedly impersonated a campaign against oil giant Exxon Mobil.

Whitehouse said that Berman’s dismissal two weeks ago, which Democrats have speculated may be tied to his investigations into associates of President Trump, might have also been related to this probe.

“Suggestions of political interference into ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions are rife at this point,” Whitehouse wrote in a letter addressed to Barr.  

Whitehouse said “the interest of the oil and gas industry in avoiding an inquiry into the events documented in these stories, and its influence in the Trump administration, and any reasonable observer would have reason to be concerned.”

“I strongly suspect that this industry’s influence extends to decisions made by Department of Justice,” Whitehouse said, noting instances where the department has taken pro-fossil fuel stances on litigation. 

The senator said Berman’s termination “heightens those concerns for matters in” the SDNY.

A report released last month by Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog group at the University of Toronto, showed details of the hacking campaign, which were linked to a company in India. The report nor prosecutors with the SDNY have accused Exxon Mobil of wrongdoing.

A spokesman for Exxon Mobil said in a statement to The New York Times last month that the company “has no knowledge of, or involvement in, the hacking activities outlined in Citizen Lab’s report.”

Upon Berman’s resignation his former deputy, Audrey Strauss, took on his position. In his resignation Berman described Strauss as “the smartest, most principled, and effective lawyer” he’s worked with who he said he trusts to maintain the office’s “tradition of integrity and independence.”

Berman is scheduled to testify before House lawmakers in a closed-door meeting next week. 

Tags Donald Trump Sheldon Whitehouse William Barr

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